Using shorter sentences does not mean you have to dumb down your ideas. But people take in a lot of information daily. The average American spends over 3 hours a day on their phone. We receive an average of 50 emails a day (not counting spam). So shorter sentences help overwhelmed readers digest the information you want to convey.
Shorter sentences have some benefits.
- Increase readability. The Flesch Reading Ease score is a method for estimating the reading difficulty of English-language text. The length of the words and sentences are used to calculate a Flesch readability score. Longer sentences lead to lower scores. For most business and internet writing, you want a score in the 60-70 word range.
- Have more impact. If you’re reading a series of medium-length sentences, a short sentence draws attention to that idea. It breaks the rhythm. The reader then pauses briefly to take in the idea, and you can return to writing medium-length sentences that make up the majority of prose. See what I mean?
- Create urgency. Think of short sentences as the staccato of prose. These short, staccato-like sentences suggest you have to read this now. Not tomorrow. Not later. But at this time.
Yes, those are fragments, not complete sentences. But you get the idea, right?
Keep in mind that you cannot rely on short sentences for the majority of your writing. Doing so wears out your reader just as much as writing filled with one long sentence after another that goes on forever to the point that the reader forgets the beginning of a sentence by the time they get to the end of it.
Make it your goal to have a variety of sentence lengths. But aim for medium-length ones, which contain a main clause and at most two clauses—such as this one.
How to Shorten Sentences
Removing unnecessary words isn’t always ideal. Some of the “smaller” words are transition words needed to make your writing clear. And although it is true that removing redundant words will shorten your sentences, I can remove the deadwood and still write long ones.
Instead, measure your word count. If your sentences are consistently near or over 50 to 75 words, you need to shorten some.
Look at your punctuation. Too many commas are an indication that you are packing too many ideas into a sentence.
Begin using the Paramedic Editing process. The step-by-step approach helps you with the typical advice, such as using the active voice, removing redundant words, and breaking up your ideas.
Tools to Help You Shorten Sentences
Online tools are available that will help you identify and shorten sentences. One is Text Compactor, a simple tool that summarizes your text. However, it primarily summarizes, and sometimes what it leaves out is important.
Be aware that many online summarizers require you to pay for them or give you limited access. One such tool is InkforAll, but it is by no means the only one. And don’t be fooled by the AI hype. I used AISEO’s summarizer tool on a section from the Paramedic Editing article. Its results were disappointing, and it left out important ideas.
Three tools that help identify wordy sentences are Grammarly, ProWriting Aid, and Hemingway. I tried the online version of Hemingway on a section from the Paramedic Editing article. The results were positive—a 6th grade reading level with two difficult sentences.
Not that I’m surprised since I used Grammarly before publishing the article. I was impressed with the Hemingway analysis of this article and recommend that budget-minded writers check it out.
This advice applies mainly to informal writing, blogging, and writing for the internet. Fiction and creative non-fiction writers follow their own rules.
Do you think we are dumbing down our writing? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
And as always, thanks for sharing.